American Well-Being

Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index

Every year since 2008, Gallup and Healthways have put out the State of American Well-Being where they ranked each of the state by how well they are doing based upon “55 unique measures of well-being that went far beyond physical wellness and traditional health risk factors.” They interviewed over 178,000 people. The minimum number of respondents for any given state was 462 and the maximum was a bit more than 17,000. I assume those are something like Wyoming and California respectively.

What we see in the map above are the states put into quintiles. Perhaps surprisingly, a bunch of really cold states are in the top ten. But this is deceptive. This year the two Dakotas are at the top of the ratings, even though they were at 12 (South) and 19 (North) just last year. It’s hard not to conclude that this has something to do with the oil money they have recently been getting. The truth is, all of those northern states in the top ten have very low unemployment rates—North Dakota has a rate of just 2.7%. But I can’t say for sure, because the full report is not out yet. Indeed, the surveys themselves are over a year old. But it is a lot of data to deal with.

Other things stand out in the report, however. Just as the northern states seem to be doing well, the deep south is doing really poorly. This is especially interesting when you consider that unemployment isn’t that high there. Louisiana and Oklahoma have an unemployment rate of only 5.4%. Alabama’s rate is only 6.1%. Arkansas and Mississippi do have high rates: 7.4% and 7.8%. But this is nothing compared to California (8.3%) and Rhode Island (9.3%), both of which rate much higher.

Coal country doesn’t seem to be doing well. In fact, West Virginia has rated last every year the report has been done. I think they all might do better if they stopped trying to hang onto the 19th century and decided to move into the 21st. I don’t doubt that the rest of the country would be willing to sink a lot of money (not that we aren’t already) into helping the people of West Virginia break free of their coal economy. Of course, there are very powerful energy interests who do everything to stop that. I assume the people who own those companies would rate high on the wellness scale.

Another thing that sticks out is the difference between Oregon and Washington. I’ve lived for long periods in both states and they seem very similar to me. Yet Washington ranks 9th (15th last year) and Oregon ranks 25th (24th last year). This may be due to the fact that Washington is just a little better than Oregon in a whole bunch of ways. They add up. And the politics of Washington are distinctly more liberal than Oregon, so there’s that.

There are various other things to note. California is now, as always, in the high teens. That makes sense. We are too big a state to make major changes from year to year. Nevada made a huge increase this year from 39th to 26th. I suspect that people are still feeling relieved that Sharron Angle is not their Senator. Actually, it is probably because their unemployment rate has dropped a lot, even if it is still the second worst in the nation at 9.0%.

My conclusion on all of this is that living in a liberal state is generally the best thing, unless you have huge numbers of petrodollars flooding your state. Burying your head in the sand and refusing to except science, hating people who aren’t like you even when they don’t bother you, and pining for a nation that never existed? These are things that keep you down and not feeling well. You are all welcome in California!

H/T: Chris Cillizza

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

0 thoughts on “American Well-Being

  1. A few more maps interesting to compare with this one. First, union membership by state:

    And then, income inequality:

    The union map correlates fairly strongly with the well-being one, the inequality map even more so. Looking at both, one can see that while California and New York have high union membership, they also have high inequality and accordingly do not score as highly on overall well-being. I would guess that this is largely because these states have large prison populations (a direct result of inequality) and while prison employees tend to be unionized, it is not mentally healthy work. And while the oil boom Dakotas are barely unionized, most oil work pays well and is spread among the working-class, reducing inequality there. (It’s made for a miserable women-to-men ratio, however!)

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